The Plantpower Way to a Vegan Diet for the 21st Century

The authors, Rich Roll and Julie Piatt (Maclay Heriot and Gunny Guzman)

According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, two billion of the world’s population survives on a meat-based diet, which, given the amount of land, water and energy involved in meat production, requires more resources than we ultimately have. Meanwhile, four billion of the world’s human inhabitants currently survive mostly on plants. Frances Moore Lappé told us all about this in her groundbreaking 1971 book, Diet For a Small Planet.

In the just-released cookbook and lifestyle guide The Plantpower Way, Rich Roll and Julie Piatt are telling us again, throwing in vegan recipes that are so beautiful and delicious that you might forget to miss the meat -- and the cheese, eggs, and milk, for that matter. (Some recipes do contain honey, which is not vegan; Roll and Piatt think of it as an important nutrient, and they often recommend it as a sweetener.)

The Plantpower Way by Rich Roll and Julie Piatt
The Plantpower Way by Rich Roll and Julie Piatt (Maclay Heriot and Gunny Guzman)

Roll’s story is a compelling one. After a decade of struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol, he had managed to get sober in time for his fortieth birthday, but was 50 pounds overweight and going up a flight of stairs was a challenge. The proverbial epiphany that often accompanies mid-life crises translated, for Roll, into a life overhaul, complete with strict veganism and a training regimen that would lead him to compete in triathlons. Two years later and 50 pounds lighter, he became the first vegan to complete the Ultraman 320-mile über-endurance event, even finishing in the top ten (among males), despite being a novice at such feats of endurance. Needless to say, he’s become the poster child for plant-fueled athleticism, and The Plantpower Way shares approaches to experiment with different “paths,” as Roll calls them, to plant-based eating.

The book is co-authored by Piatt, Roll’s wife, a yogi, writer and chef herself, who also credits her optimal health to a vegan diet and is the driver of the recipes that make the whole shebang so appealing.

Organized by category, rather than meal (with the exception of a section on "Breakfast & Brunch"), the book offers an easy foray into the genre, starting with "Blends & Juices," which are not to be confused. Blends are nutrient-dense combinations of foods that act more like a meal, whereas juices are more like medicine, with most of the fiber removed. All are simple to make, but juices require special equipment (a masticating juicer), while blends can be concocted in any blender or Vitamix-type machine.

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The "Triple B Blend" is one of the more adventurous recipes, combining apple and kale with raw pepitas, beets, and basil. "Cherry Cacao" is a healthy version of a chocolate-cherry shake, with a hit of kale and chia. And "Divine Vibration" combines citrus fruits with aloe vera, sage, lavender flowers, and rose petals for an aromatic elixir. Juice recipes are offered in three simple templates, with which you can make variations on a theme. Roll and Piatt emphasize that all ingredients for blends and juices should be organic.

Gluten-free berry scones
Gluten-free berry scones (Maclay Heriot and Gunny Guzman)

Breakfast is the one meal the authors encourage us to re-think categorically, putting aside carb-laden heaviness and moving toward a new paradigm of drinkable salads, chia puddings, miso soup, and a “no-lox” plate that substitutes veggies for salmon and Brazil nut spread for cream cheese. There’s even a gluten-free berry scone recipe made with brown rice flour, potato starch, and garbanzo flour.

There is an additional section devoted to alternative milks made from hemp, white sesame seeds and cashews, and “cheeses” made with walnuts and coconut, as well as a section on "Sauces & Dressings." In many ways, these are the key to the success of the recipes throughout the book, as they add familiar flavors that translate well to what might otherwise be daunting vegan recipes. Tahini green sauce, mushroom gravy, and raw mole are excellent bridges to the more austere dishes. Tahini green transforms the experience of eating steamed vegetables, and mushroom gravy enlivens country-style tempeh loaf, as well as simple mashed potatoes.

Grilled veggie salad with Dijon-honey vinaigrette
Grilled veggie salad with Dijon-honey vinaigrette (Maclay Heriot and Gunny Guzman)

"Soups and Salads" are especially seasonally driven, and the "Grilled Veggie Salad" is a beautiful example. Careful attention is given both to the selection and preparation of the food. Summer is when this dish shines, with corn, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and young lettuces, tossed warm in a Dijon-honey vinaigrette.

A twist on a high-calorie classic, Roll and Piatt’s version of Fettuccini Alfredo relies on vegan butter (with a palm oil base) and butternut squash and cashews in place of parmesan. The result is a rich, creamy, and deeply comforting meal.

An interesting substitute for one of Roll’s cravings from childhood, tuna salad, is the mercury-free “untuna” with walnuts, olives, celery and seaweed.

Rich’s Birthday Apple Pie
Rich’s Birthday Apple Pie (Maclay Heriot and Gunny Guzman)

Another classic dish that receives excellent treatment is apple pie, Roll’s favorite birthday version, in fact. The crust is made with flaxseed and walnuts, and the apples are sliced thinly and fanned out as in a galette.

While the book offers ample practical advice about how to select, prepare, and serve plant-based foods, it is as much of a lifestyle guide as anything else. The section called "Raising Healthy Kids" will be of interest to skeptical parents who are interested in veganism, but worry about providing their youngsters a balanced diet with enough protein. Roll and Piatt take a gradual, non-judgmental approach, suggesting that if you “walk your talk” and cook with love (without being pushy), then kids almost always follow suit and begin to explore foods they might not have gravitated to on their own.

The book closes with three different ways of breaking down and packaging the basic philosophy espoused, inviting the reader to test the waters. Those on the "Vitality Path" view food as energy, strive to balance yin and yang, and eat, essentially, to shore up the life force. "Performance Path" followers seek food as fuel, thinking more about combinations of foods that will increase their physical performance in any area. This protocol emphasizes super-foods and calorie-packed fuel for training. Finally, the "Transformation Path" is all about food as an alchemical decision that affects gut ecology, metabolism, and other health aspects that might be of concern.

Whether you’re all in, a dabbler, or just someone who wonders what you might feel like if animal products were not in your system, The Plantpower Way is an un-scary introduction to 21st-century veganism: that is to say, a plant-based diet with style.

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Editor's Note: We made a slight correction to this post -- Roll finished the Ultraman 320-mile über-endurance event among the top 10 MALES. We had originally stated that he finished in the top ten overall. We also corrected a phrase clarifying that using honey is not vegan, in response to comments below.

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